2/18/2016 – Flying Freelance with Taylor Aldridge
Artist: Taylor Aldridge
TA – Hot green tea, vegetarian ramen with hot sauce, side salad w/ carrot dressing
SRS – Soda water, spicy pork lunch box, miso soup
It’s great when you meet someone as self-possessed and thoughtful as Taylor Aldridge–a Detroit native who has recently returned to her native scene to see what’s up. She describes leaving the city at the age of 17, working long years in an academic context, and hearing word of the cultural renaissance–thinking it depicted Detroit in a way that was unfamiliar to her. Made her want to come back and see for herself. Now she’s taking in this new/old landscape and finding her place in it…one that includes, of late, her emergence as an art critic. In my view, Taylor’s perspective is absolutely crucial, and she is impressively intentional in her thinking about her approach.
It’s unsettling, to say the least, when you realize that the bright intellectual you’ve sat down to breakfast (lunch) with is actually trying to tap your experience, as far as eking out a freelance existence in a world that hesitates to pay artists, even as it leverages their cultural capital. I have perhaps less than the usual hang-ups about my age, but it’s always terrifying for me to think I’m somehow the salty old veteran in the situation. I still have a lot to learn, myself. But exchanging ideas with Taylor underscores how much we are all in this city/world/life together, and how much we have to offer each other. I recently did some consolidating of my thinking on this matter for a professional writing graduate module at U of M, so it was fresh in my mind to share with Taylor some of the things that seem to be entirely absent from the higher education curriculum.
One thing is baseline professional skill sets, another is learning how to budget–and crucially, developing a balance between guaranteed income, passion projects, and maybe-pays-but-when?–yet another, which we discussed in depth, is identifying and setting professional boundaries. Taylor edits the tightly curated online journal, ARTS.BLACK, and finds herself in the position of having to screen selections. I just went through my first experience as guest juror of a regional art show–this one here, which will open at the Walter E Terhune Gallery in the Owens Community Center for Fine and Performing Arts (in Perrysburg, Ohio) on March 3rd!–which requires a kind of exclusion criteria that I specifically avoid in much of my critical writing. Finding the way to say, “thanks, but no thanks,” is a tricky subject–especially when it may have nothing to do with your personal perspective, as much as your overarching vision (or, you know, it might be personal. That’s okay, too).
“Women need to learn to be comfortable saying no,” said Taylor, and it’s absolutely true. People-pleasing is not an exclusively female trait, but it’s definitely a value given to us more than to men, and it is sometimes hard for men to respect the fact that hearing “no” from a women in a position of authority (or just on a date) is not negotiable. Holding firm on that subject is a kind of work we do, not just on our own behalf, but for collective progress. Additionally, I find someone’s inability to respect my clearly-stated boundaries to be an excellent indicator that they’re an asshole and I don’t need to repay their acquaintance. So it’s really a win-win situation.
I’m really looking forward to my next conversation with Taylor, and hearing more from her on the subject of the arts in Detroit. It’s always a pleasure to meet a young woman with her act together, and so much in her sights. I know there’s a lot more to come, from this one.